Geeked on Golf


4 Comments

IN PRAISE OF RESTRAINT AT ROCK HOLLOW G.C.

The first edition of this season’s Upping My Dye-Q series takes a look at the Tim Liddy designed Rock Hollow Golf Club

“Who are you, and what do you do?” The direct inquiry by the local I encountered in the pro shop after completing an early-spring loop around the Tim Liddy designed Rock Hollow Golf Club caught me off guard. He must have noticed the befuddled look on my face, so he elaborated. “We saw you playing fast and carrying your bag. We know everyone who plays out here. What’s your story?” Gathering myself, I explained that I was on my way to French Lick and was taking the opportunity to see Rock Hollow, which had been on my hit list for years. After commiserating over our mutual affection for their home course, we settled in for the kind of enjoyable conversation that naturally flows among fellow geeks. Topics ranged from Chicago Golf Club to Langford & Moreau to the Pete Dye Course at French Lick, along with their beloved Rock Hollow. It was exactly the kind of community golf vibe that makes me feel right at home.

Pete’s Protege

Tim Liddy got his start at an engineering firm where he was working as a landscape architect and self-described “front end guy”. The engineers often assigned him to be the client liaison because of his skills with people and drawing. This dynamic led to an introduction to Pete Dye in 1990, resulting in his assignment to the Ocean Course project on Kiawah Island. “Pete didn’t draw plans. At that time, the permitting process required more detailed drawings,” Liddy shared. “Pete loved me because I had studied the world’s great golf holes and understood what he was talking about. It also helped that I drew well and quickly, and I didn’t mind that most of my drawings would end up in the garbage when he changed his mind. Pete started as my idol, served as my mentor, and ultimately became a father figure.” The pair’s collaboration carried on for 25 years with Pete concocting and Tim drawing.


Tim Liddy’s artistic talents on display in his digital watercolor of Rock Hollow’s 1st

Serendipity would continue to tap Tim Liddy in the early ‘90s. The Smith family, stalwarts of the game in Indiana, were looking to build a golf course and they approached Pete Dye through a mutual friend. While reviewing plans for another project at the dining room table in the Dye home, Pete made the simple suggestion, “Tim will do it.” The gears were set in motion for Liddy’s first solo design.

The Golfing Smiths

Why did the Smiths decide to build a golf course? “It’s 25 years later, and I am asking myself that same question,” joked Terry Smith, the patriarch of this golfing clan. Terry learned the game from his father, and passed it on to his three sons, Terry, Todd and Chris. All played high level competitive golf, with Chris ultimately becoming a PGA Tour winner.

The family owned a gravel and stone business that operated out of a 350+ acre quarry in Peru, IN. By 1972, the site had been mined out and sat fallow. “We left it alone to become wildlife habitat, but I felt that there could be a better use for the land,” Smith said. “Golf was such a big part of our lives, it made sense to transform the quarry into a golf course.” Clearing began in 1992, and based on Pete Dye’s recommendation, the Smith’s crew went to work under the direction of Liddy. “We had the equipment and people to handle the clearing and earthmoving, and Pete lent us a shaper to bring the finer details of Tim’s design to life.”

Creation stories tend to be romanticized, glossing over the gory details. Many golf geeks dream of building and owning their own course, and most have no comprehension of the blood, sweat and tears necessary to make that dream a reality. The story of Rock Hollow’s creation includes hints of just how tough it can be. “After unexpectedly having to top dress the entire course with soil from our farm, we found that the 7th hole was still too rocky to grow healthy turf,” recounted Smith. “Members of our family, staff and the community came out and crawled the entire length of the fairway on hands and knees picking out rocks prior to seeding.” With that level of commitment and engagement, it is no wonder that the Smiths and their neighbors remain attached to the course.

The Course

The site that would become Rock Hollow had two special characteristics on which Liddy capitalized. The mining operation created more than 50 feet of elevation change from the outer edges to the central lake—uncommon for this part of Indiana. Additionally, the site was much bigger than the golf course, allowing for the retention of that “nature preserve” feel. As Liddy described it, “Everything leads you into the natural landscape. It is like a watercolor with detail in the middle of the painting while the edges blur to support the whole.” Areas of wetland and woodland are interspersed, with the golf holes taking the player on an exploration of the land.

Rock Hollow’s nines are routed in two loops. Each begins by working around the property edge and then turning back inward to interact with the lake. The perimeter topography holds more interest, and Liddy took advantage of that variety to create a collection of holes packed with character. “One of the best things about Tim’s design is that there are no weak holes,” gushed Smith. Even after discounting his owner’s bias, I tend to agree that Rock Hollow is solid from start to finish. A unique and creative hole like the short par-4 16th, with its semi-blind approach to a green that seemingly floats on the horizon, stands out from the rest as a favorite.

Click on any gallery image below to enlarge with captions

In typical Dye fashion, Liddy employed angles, elevation changes and landforms to make the player feel uncomfortable on the tee. Confident drives are rewarded, but the best line to take is frequently not evident to the newbie visitor. Unlike some of Pete Dye’s courses, Rock Hollow has a much more understated aesthetic to accompany the strategy. “The design was a reaction to Pete’s strong personality,” Liddy explained. “The feature shapes are simple and the edges are blurry on purpose, allowing the landscape to be the focus.” This conscious restraint does not result in a bland golf course, however. To complement the natural beauty of the setting, Liddy took a hands-on approach that is evident in varied green surrounds and large, contoured putting surfaces. Rock Hollow is a course that would remain interesting, challenging and fun even after numerous plays.

Returning to the locals in the pro shop, their pride in Rock Hollow is palpable and well founded. After a period during which the conditions deteriorated, new Superintendent Larry Wilk and his team have the course looking and playing great. The design might be restrained, but the hard work and love that have gone into making Rock Hollow a terrific community golf course have been anything but. “I love golf, and it feels good to have created a place for our family to work and play the game,” Smith mused. “We took an unproductive piece of land and gave it a new use that makes people happy.” Terry Smith doesn’t say so explicitly, but I get the sense that reflecting on the joy that his course has brought to players makes the investment of blood, sweat and tears worth it.

For those in search of fun, affordable and architecturally interesting golf, Rock Hollow should be on your list. The Smith family is ready to welcome you in Peru.


7 Comments

A 1,537 Mile Drive – The Fort, Hyde Park, Camargo, French Lick, Harrison Hills

My schedule worked out such that I had a few days to hit the open road for golf adventure.  With much appreciated help from Tim Liddy and Jason Thurman, a tour through Indiana and Ohio came together which allowed me to add to my experience of Ross, Raynor, Dye, and Langford (with a healthy dose of Liddy).

Each of these architects practiced the craft of design and construction differently to my eye.  Raynor and Langford, through the lens of the engineer, produced features that are elegant in their simultaneous simplicity and boldness.  Ross and Dye, with the flourish of the artist, blended their creative vision with the landscape.  All used masterful routings across the rolling land to deliver beauty, interest, challenge and a sense of profound joy for me as a I walked the fairways.

Before diving into the photos and commentary, it is worth mentioning that the trip was bookended with golf at my dad’s community golf course in Galesburg, IL where I had the pleasure of whacking it around with Pops and my little guys.  I would trade any of these top-tier golf experiences for a chance to walk with my dad and watch my boys discover the joy of this great game.  For me, that golf is in a class high above the Top 100.

Tim has graciously offered to add his commentary.  I will post it shortly.


THE FORT

Round 1 was supposed to be at Harrison Hills, but they had storm damage, so I hit The Fort instead.  I found out after the round that Tim Liddy worked extensively with Pete Dye on the course.

Having only played the ASU course prior to this, I am inexperienced with Pete Dye’s work (other than what I see in pictures and on TV).  I was surprised to find a course that had plenty of interest as it moved over the rolling terrain without feeling overly manufactured.  The bunkering, greens, and green surrounds had splashes of creativity, but that creativity fit into the landscape nicely.

The course is in a State Park that was previously the Army’s Fort Benjamin Harrison.  It feels remote (a la Bethpage), which I always enjoy, even though it is in the suburbs of Indianapolis.  There was plenty of space to make big holes, and the course has a set of four par 5s that I absolutely loved, including back-to-back 5s on the front nine.  Those holes were gettable, but not without solid strategy and execution.

Sadly, I don’t feel like I got to experience all of the fun of bounces and rolls that were possible because the course was so water-logged.  I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that The Fort was designed with fast-and-firm foremost in mind, but I would say that it would be a blast to play on a drier day.


HYDE PARK GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

HydePark-Clubhouse

Hyde Park’s Clubhouse as seen beyond the ravine that dissects the 12th hole.

Prior to the trip, I had heard from several people that Hyde Park was underrated.  I expected to like it because I am a Ross guy, but what I found was that underrated is an understatement.  The work that Tim Liddy, Eric O’Bryan, and Pat O’Brien have done to restore the course is as good as any that I have seen.

The first hole is relatively straightforward and is a gentle setup for what is about to come.  Heading to the 2nd tee, one gets a first glimpse of how the routing will use the hills and ravines and it is simply breathtaking.  Hyde Park’s #2-7 is an all-world stretch of holes (and #10-15 is no slouch either).  The course is routed using the hills to provide elevation changes and quite a few high-to-high shots, which I find thrilling.

The big picture is outstanding, but the course might be even better in the details.  For example:

  • Use of straight lines on tee boxes, fairway grass lines, and green fronts is a really cool contrast to the natural roll of the land.
  • The variety of Ross bunkers are beautifully placed and shaped, with some dug down to create scale, and others built up.
  • Greens are extended out the edges of the green pads, which I find to be a really neat, classic look.
  • The green contours are mostly subtle, but tricky and fun nonetheless.  I suspect that it takes a long time to really learn those greens.
  • Tree management at the course is terrific.  The course has beautiful, old specimen trees galore, but it does not feel over-treed.
  • The fairways are Zoysia, which was so pleasant to play.  Dear Lord, please let me play on fairways like that when I am an old man.

Even without the strongest finishers on each nine, I was still blown away.  As an every day course, it doesn’t get much better than Hyde Park.


THE DONALD ROSS COURSE AT FRENCH LICK

RossCourse-OpeningView

A first glimpse of the golf to come literally takes the breath away.

I read reviews and looked at numerous photos of the Ross Course.  I expected it to be gorgeous because every photo I have seen of the place is beautiful.  Walking out to the first tee, and seeing the course laid out across the land, I realized that the pictures don’t do it justice.

Most of the greens are on high points on the property, which achieves two objectives: 1) the course plays mostly uphill, adding to its challenge, and 2) each hole culminates with another beautiful vista.  It’s like getting a little reward for surviving the climb.

The challenge of the Ross Course just begins upon reaching the greens.  The contours were the wildest I have ever seen on a Ross design, and they were a blast to putt.  On quite a few holes, my playing partner and I lingered to try some of the putts that would result from approaches hit to the wrong section of the green.  I could have spent hours…

The bunker variety and placement is just right, and the color-contrasts of fairways, bunkers, and tall grass are simply sublime.  It is no wonder that a course that looks like a work of fine art in color and composition is so photogenic.

It’s a general theme here that I would like another chance to play these courses in drier conditions.  There is little doubt in my mind that the weather had taken some of the teeth out of the Ross Course the day I played it.  Playing dry and firm, look out.


HARRISON HILLS GOLF & COUNTRY CLUB

After playing two stellar Rosses and a legendary Raynor earlier in the week, I thought that I might be out of WOWs by the time I reached Harrison Hills early on my final day.  William Langford and Tim Liddy proved me wrong with their 71-years-apart collaboration.

I had heard about the course from Dan Moore and others, and after playing Lawsonia Links in the Spring, I was excited for the round.  Tim challenged me to determine which holes he did in his expansion of the course.  I got 17.5 right….  I won’t share the answers here – go play the course and see for yourself.

The distinction between the Langford and Liddy holes is not so much one of design as it is a feel of age.  Tim’s holes just feel newer.  With proper tree and turf management over the next 20-30 years though, I suspect that it will be nearly impossible to distinguish who did what.


MORE GEEKEDONGOLF ADVENTURES

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf